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  • On the Scene: Obama Opens Olympic Appeal for Chicago


    Chicago is that most American of American cities - a city that reflects the decency, honesty, and generosity of our people; a city of broad shoulders, big dreams, and a bright future, President Barack Obama told the IOC in his taped message. (ATR/Panasonic:Lumix)
    (ATR) Chicago 2016 wasted no time bringing out President Barack Obama on the first day of the IOC Evaluation Commission visit -- even if he is now in Europe.

    He delivered a stirring endorsement of his hometown in a taped message shown in the opening session of the commission Saturday morning.

    "After your visit," Obama said, addressing the commission led by Nawal El Moutawakel, "once you discover the Chicago that I know -- the city that I made my home, the city where my wife grew up, the city where we raised our daughters just blocks from where these games will be held -- I am confident you will discover that you're already in the perfect host city for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games."

    In his three and a half minute presentation, Obama said he regretted not meeting the commission in person. Bid organizers hope he will attend the IOC Session in Copenhagen.

    Chicago bid strategist George Hirthler, who has worked on nine bid campaigns, compared Obama's influence as a head of state to that of Britain's Tony Blair and Russia's Vladimir Putin on the London and Sochi bids.

    "I don't think any past American bid has had the kind of popular global president or government leader that we have in Barack Obama," said Hirthler, whose winning campaigns were Atlanta, Beijing and Vancouver. "It's kind of like the stars have aligned for us in this regard."

    He said not only is Obama from Chicago, but he has a house in a neighborhood close to a proposed venue.

    "I think he's an incredible asset," Hirthler said.

    Poll Given No Credence

    Chicago 2016 spokesman Patrick Sandusky discredited an online Chicago Tribune poll showing 75 percent of respondents were against hosting the Olympics. The poll, which had about 29,000 votes, was taken down by the newspaper Friday afternoon after it was used as propaganda by the No Games Chicago group.

    No Games Chicago, which held an anti-Games protest and march Thursday, issued a press release Friday crowing about the results of the poll, which had been up since mid-week.

    "It wasn't a scientific poll," Sandusky said. "We're not concerned with them. They had their opportunity to protest. They obviously didn't have that many people show up, and we think that's indicative of the widespread support for the bid in Chicago."

    Earlier this week, Chicago 2016 released results of its own poll showing
    IOC Evaluation Commission chair Nawal Moutawakel and Olympic Games Executive Director Gilbert Felli at the open of their meeting in Chicago. (ATR/Panasonic:Lumix)
    78 percent of respondents supported the Olympics in the city. A recent Chicago Tribune poll showed 64 percent support.

    No Games Chicago charged in its press release Chicago 2016's poll "appears to be a fake poll."

    The real poll or the one the IOC will pay attention to has already been taken by a firm hired by the IOC. The IOC commission will unveil the results for each city during the visit.

    No Games Chicago has requested a meeting with members of the Evaluation Commission, but told Around the Rings that no one - including El Moutawakel -- has replied.

    Leading off the Visits

    Chicago went before the Evaluation Commission first because of scheduling. Tokyo is up next, followed by Rio de Janeiro and Madrid.

    "I love going first," Hirthler said. "You get the opportunity to set the bar as high as you can, and you also then have an opportunity to watch what happens as the process unfolds with other cities as you're preparing for the next step."

    Bid committees are given instructions not to compare their city to rivals.

    "We talk about our strengths and what's unique about our city," Hirthler said, citing the 1909 city plan by architect Daniel Burnham to host global celebrations -- which Chicago still follows --- and the unusal and unprecdented government support from City Hall to the White House.

    USOC spokesman Darryl Seibel said the "gamechanger" which helped Chicago defeat four other U.S. cities in the domestic competition was "who will be best prepared to compete internationally, the character, energy and warmth of the people, not just in Chicago, but the Midwest."
    The team from Chicago sits on one side of a large hotel meeting room specially outfitted for the Evaluation Commission meeting. (ATR/Panasonic:Lumix)

    Hirthler said he believes the opening day of the Evaluation Commission visit is second in importance only to the final presentation day on Oct. 2.

    "We got off to a great start today," he said.

    Chicago 2016 delivered presentations on vision, legacy and communication and overall concept of the Games; sport and venues; the Olympic Village; accommodations, transport, and the environment and meteorology.

    The Ties That Bind

    Bid leaders Saturday wore green ties dotted with white stars, the symbol from the Chicago city flag which bears four stars. They will wear a different-colored tie each day from the bid color scheme, with yellow next on Sunday.

    Mayor Richard Daley has said the city would add a fifth star to the flag if Chicago wins the Olympic bid.

    Written by, Ed Hula

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